Journalists allege federal agents threw tear gas, smashed van windows during Portland protests

July 21, 2020

Journalists Fiorella Isabel Mayorca and Craig Jardula said they were caught in a cloud of tear gas and had guns pointed at them by law-enforcement officers as they covered protests in Portland, Oregon, on July 21, 2020. They also said officers smashed the windows of a van they were using.

Mayorca and Jardula, co-owners of The Convo Couch, a Los Angeles-based video news outlet, said they had arrived in Portland two days earlier to cover protests that had grown more intense as the presence of federal law enforcement increased.

Demonstrations against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the U.S. since late May. They were sparked by a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The journalists told the U.S Press Freedom Tracker they arrived at a demonstration at around 9:30 p.m. on July 20 outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse downtown, where federal law enforcement officers were stationed.

Mayorca and Jardula streamed live on YouTube for several hours, documenting the demonstration and interviewing protesters. They said that a little after midnight, they returned to a van parked nearby that they had been using as a media station and spot to rest and regroup. Dubbed the “Bernie Van,” it was owned by progressive activist David Crow and had been used as he independently campaigned for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during the recent Democratic primary. It was adorned with progressive slogans, including “Defund the Police.”

While inside the van at approximately 12:30 a.m., they saw what they believe were federal law enforcement officers in riot gear come out of the courthouse and start to throw tear gas canisters on the ground to push protesters back, Mayorca and Jardula said.

“We started choking from the smoke that came in,” said Jardula. “We were pouring water on our faces. We were almost panicking.”

Mayorca and Jardula continued to film the scene. They said an officer saw them and alerted other agents to the van. Video shows an officer pointing a gun at the van before a group of officers approaches, shines flashlights on them and hits the windows until they shatter.

Mayorca said the officers told them to “Get the fuck out."

“They pointed guns at us,” she said. “It made me feel like they were the enemy, when they’re supposed to be putting in order, so to speak.”

Jardula added that it appeared that the federal officers “wanted everybody out of that area, no matter who you are. They were setting a perimeter to push everyone back.”

While a number of federal agencies reportedly had officers in Portland in July, it wasn’t clear to Mayorca and Jardula which agency the officers they encountered were from. The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal presence in Portland, did not respond to requests for comment.

After the van’s windows were smashed, Mayorca and Jardula said they left the vehicle and shouted to the officers that they were members of the press.

“They did let us walk out, and we were able to get safely out of there,” Mayorca said.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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